Kakao names new chief in push for radical reform

Kakao praised Chung Shin-a’s expertise and experience in the IT sector, as well as her comprehensive understanding of the conflicts and hardships that the company faced in its business expansion efforts.

Jie Ye-eun

Jie Ye-eun

The Korea Herald


File photo of Kakao's CEO nominee Chung Shin-a. PHOTO: KAKAO/ THE KOREA HERALD

December 14, 2023

SEOUL – Kakao said Wednesday it had nominated a new chief executive as part of the company’s comprehensive reform efforts amid ongoing internal and external conflicts.

The company’s CEO candidate recommendation committee earlier in the day named Chung Shin-a, head of Kakao Ventures, Kakao’s venture capital unit, as the sole candidate for the role.

Kakao praised Chung’s expertise and experience in the IT sector, as well as her comprehensive understanding of the conflicts and hardships that the company faced in its business expansion efforts.

Chung will replace the incumbent CEO Hong Eun-taek once she receives approval from the board of directors and gains a nod from the shareholders at a separate meeting slated for the end of March.

“We will implement an active, responsible form of management rather, than an autonomous style of management, to achieve growth, meet society’s expectations, and focus more on key future business sectors,” Chung said in a statement. “Since Kakao does not have much time, we won’t miss the opportunity to implement change.”

The 48-year-old joined Kakao Ventures in 2014 after an accomplished career at Boston Consulting Group, eBay’s Asia-Pacific headquarters, and Kakao’s crosstown rival Naver. Chung has been leading Kakao Ventures since 2018 and contributed to expanding Kakao’s IT ecosystem by discovering and investing in startups in fields including artificial intelligence, robots, mobile platforms, games, and digital health care.

In March, she took on an advisory role at Kakao to improve the company’s overall business and services. She is also a member of the Corporate Alignment Council, the company’s de facto control tower set up in September.

The new chief nomination announcement came two days after Kakao founder Kim Beom-su held a meeting with executives and employees at the company’s Pangyo headquarters in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. During Monday’s meeting, Kim vowed to implement a fundamental reform of the tech giant to reconcile ongoing conflicts and become a socially responsible organization in the AI era.

The meeting was held for the first time in about three years. Kim last stood in front of Kakao employees in February 2021 and promised to donate half of his assets to society. Kim did not mention a specific action plan on Monday but showed his strong will to overhaul the company’s governance structure, highlighting the importance of “finding a direction that can earn the trust of society.”

Kakao began holding weekly emergency meetings on Oct. 30 to announce several tangible reform measures by the end of the year to address public criticism surrounding alleged stock manipulation in connection with its acquisition of K-pop agency SM Entertainment, as well as the company’s allegedly monopolistic practices.

Following Chung’s CEO nomination, Kakao’s in-house labor union showed a high expectation for new leadership to break with the past and give rise to a “new Kakao,” while saying the replacement of CEOs should be the “first step of corporate reform, not the last.”

It also requested continuous sincere communication between executives and employees to improve organizational culture.

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